In Conversation with Nandan Gautam

After recently becoming acquainted with Nandan Gautam‘s recent album, The King of The Sea we where driven to find out more about his fascinating back story, his struggle to find his  own approach to making music and the revelation that opened the way for him.

You were driven to make music earlier in life, can you tell us a bit about that and why it didn’t really work for you first time around?

There are things in life that don’t leave you. You can go as far away from them but they find a way back. Music was a natural intoxicant for me and so I immediately wanted to be a part of the creation process. I wasn’t satisfied being a listener. However, the conventional teaching methods just didn’t work for me. The entire paradigm of music theory and the effort to play notes at a certain speed in order to be a successful musician didn’t work for me. I hated practice. It was intolerable… like eating boiled potatoes every day and every meal when you want to be eating something else! This isn’t a complaint. I’m just describing what happened with me … hehe. I think that frustration that I lived with did a lot of good to me. It made me humble and it made me a great listener.

You say that you had a “spiritual awakening” that  gave you a better insight about how to approach music and freed you up to make the music that you always wanted to, what form did that take? 

It was a very specific moment… I came to a point of such complete frustration with my whole effort to try to be a player. I drank a lot that day… it was as I finally knew that I would never ever be able to play any instrument. And then out of the blue it came to me – Find a way to make music without being a player! If there was something within then it was a matter of finding a way to bring it into form, into reality. There had to be a way! And something changed in me from then on.

How do your other skills, as an author and practitioner of yoga affect your music?

In a very fundamental way. There’s no doubt about it. As a writer, I must tell a story. I must lead the reader. I can’t afford to lose him or her. And so the same applies with my music. I tell a story. All my music is a sort journey from one place to another. I do like the idea in jazz of the hook or tune finally repeating at the end, but that doesn’t always work for me. By the end of a song you are in a very different place so how can you repeat what was ‘said’ in the beginning… and so even when i do repeat the tune at the end, which is not so often… (smiles)… I find myself doing it very differently. The element of surprise is very important for me just as it is for any writer. Yoga is all about silence and tuning in to the source. That’s the base upon all this even happens. It’s essential in every way.

The music is very eclectic yet the various genres merge into your own unique sound. Is there one set way that you approach songwriting or is it different from song to song?

First of all, I rejected the idea that I must create music that falls into a certain category. Then I realised I was falling into another trap. I started to make music that sounded like it was me who was making it. It was as if I was trying to make it all sound cohesive. That’s what  we’ve been told as artists – find your sound and stick with that so that you become recognisable. In the second album, ‘The Divine Flaw” I threw that idea out of the window as well. Why should I be a prisoner of my own sound? I simply made the songs that I loved to listen to. So my approach with each song was completely different. Whether it works or not is something the listener will have to decide. I believe it does.

And how do you decide which sounds and styles you will reference and work with to create a song?

This is a natural and playful process and not pre-meditated at all. Suddenly I’ll wake up one morning and say to myself – I want to make a hindi pop song, or an expansive symphonic type of song with different movements, or a total lounge track, or a very meditative piece, very sparse and bare. Then I think – this would sound great with an extended jazz piano solo. You see, we are free to do as we please. There are no rules except that it must work. That’s the only law I follow. But that is also a dangerous place because you can get self-indulgent very easily.

Finally how different is making music twenty years on from when you were first trying to do so?

There’s no comparison! I believe I hadn’t even heard enough music to start playing. We are so busying trying to produce things before we’ve even taken in so much that’s already there. What will end up happening is that you’ll either be stuck to just playing the same three chords all your life because that’s all you heard. Or you will try to learn the whole complexity of music theory without having simply heard the music for pure enjoyment… without ever wanting to play it. The intent with which you listen is key. One should listen because its intoxicating. Not because you want to replicate it. That’s just an ego trip. I believe that the greatest musicians of tomorrow will be those who have listened intensely to music in depth and width. Playing music can be done with computers. They can do it better than any human being, just like a calculator can do math better than any person.

Do you have any advice to anyone who, like your younger self, might be struggling to find their place in music?

I only want to add that I think there are some incredible composers and creators of music out there who probably don’t know that they have something within that can be translated into reality. I want people to know that anyone who has music within them can now create it without travelling the same old path of picking one instrument, practicing it day and night, and studying the masters and trying to emulate them. There’s another way. It’s not easy. Nothing ever is. Each method demands it’s own discipline and effort. But it exists for those who truly want to make music.

Thank you, it was a pleasure to find out more about you and your music.

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